Keeping The Arts Alive And Well On Delmarva
Earth Wind & Fire. Mid-Atlantic Symphony Orchestra. Train. Black Violin. Shakespeare. Jake Owen. Harry Connick, Jr. What a season! The Freeman Arts Pavilion delivered a wave of diverse entertainment this summer; national recording artists, local artists, tribute bands, performing arts and free family and children’s programming. It was an inspiring, foot-stomping, heart-soaring, hand clapping, musically magical season, all made possible by our generous donors, sponsors, patrons, staff, partners, volunteers and neighbors.
Despite changing health directives, challenging weather conditions, the occasional hurricane and a new venue, we ‘pressed play’ and over 81,000 patrons enjoyed the season with us (a ‘thank you’ to our audience this year for being particularly patient, enthusiastic, supportive and spreading joy). Our Arts in Education program touched the hearts and minds of 28,0000 children, and we can’t wait to start that programming next month, connecting with schools and placing the opportunity to create art in the hands of our children. It’s beyond exciting to know that in our 14th year, and emerging out of an oscillating global pandemic, we have impacted over 100,000 people so far in 2021.
From Stage to Arts Pavilion: The transition of The Freeman Stage to Freeman Arts Pavilion was a giant leap for our public charity that started January 2021. Although the new physical structure of the Freeman Arts Pavilion is still several years away, everyone got to feel the potential of this incredible new venue as we enjoyed the newly landscaped site. Our pod seating arrangements worked well and kept everyone feeling safe and comfortable.
Our founder and chairwoman, Michelle Freeman, promised to create a charity program to honor the memory of her husband, Josh, after his untimely death in 2006. Josh was passionate about contributing to the performing arts and making high-quality, diverse arts experiences accessible to all. The Joshua M. Freeman Foundation seeks to honor Josh’s passion and commitment to excellence by creating programs he would have been proud of. Like those at the Freeman Arts Pavilion.
What’s new in 2022? We will be creating a new exit, moving the box office to the new entrance, adding restrooms and beverage stations, and improving the lighting and adding more staff and volunteers — all to enhance the audience experience. We can’t wait to welcome you all.
The Freeman Arts Pavilion is both the continuation of a uniquely American community tradition and the future of the arts in the Delaware coastal communities. And for that we are so grateful. We are also grateful for those who support the arts in our communities and know that our mission is alive and well and serving the residents and guests of Delmarva. Thank you to every single person for their contribution to elevating the human spirit. We look forward to seeing everyone next year in Season 15! Until then, be sure to visit our website, freemanarts.org to learn more about the Joshua M. Freeman Foundation.
(The writer is the executive director of the Freeman Arts Pavilion.)
Testimony Not Balanced
After listening to the Sept. 28 PSC Wind Turbine comments, which are available for anyone who wishes to listen at www.youtube.com/c/MarylandPSC, I’d like to question a very quantifiable statement by the Maryland Coast Dispatch which is simply not the truth. The Dispatch in its article on the PSC comments from Sept 30 stated, “After state and local officials made their pitches during the hearing, there was a steady stream of public speakers both in favor and against expanding offshore wind off the coast of Ocean City, in an alternating fashion that almost seemed planned.”
The wording in this article might lead readers to believe the testimony was 50/50 for and against. In the three hours of testimony, there were eight speakers against the turbines. All others were for them. Three of the eight were names well known to Ocean City; Mary Beth Carozza, Rick Meehan and Terry McGean. The Dispatch made sure each one’s name got highlighted in the article and each one got several paragraphs of verbatim quotes.
As for the overwhelming number that were for the wind turbines, speakers were limited to three minutes or less so and about 60 spoke during the three-hour hearing. Over 85% were for the turbines.
Let’s look at another quantifiable metric regarding The Dispatch’s coverage. Carozza, Meehan and McGean received about seven paragraphs of quotes. Those for the turbines got two. So the pro-turbine people got about 12% of the quotes despite being over 85% of the PSC commenters.
I hope The Dispatch will take a look at its coverage on this topic. The Dispatch’s main competitor got it far better, saying “droves of people spoke in favor of the initiative” in their opening paragraph on the same topic. The Dispatch owes readers better coverage that reflects the facts and statistics far better than this article.
Md. Economic Reflections
The State of Maryland has a lot of money. And by a lot, I mean a once-in-a-generation unanticipated $5 billion in the bank. Most of this money is tax revenue collected as a direct result of billions of federal and state dollars in stimulus funds pumped into Maryland’s economy. The stimulus worked. It ignited the economy.
Here’s how we got to $5 billion. This past week, my office announced a $2.5 billion general fund balance to close Fiscal Year 2021, as well as an increase of nearly $1 billion for FY 2022’s budget projections and $1.37 billion for FY 2023.
However, having billions in surplus in the state’s coffers doesn’t mean all Marylanders are doing fine. How we got here demonstrates that we have, in fact, two very different Marylands.
About two-thirds of our population have been mostly unaffected by the economic calamity of this pandemic. These Marylanders were able to work remotely, invest their wealth in the markets, and run businesses unaffected by the conditions of the pandemic. Wages went up. Spending increased. Capital gains skyrocketed.
And it’s not just workers. It’s also mom and pop businesses on our Main streets in the heart of our communities. These family-owned businesses are the backbone of our economy. Most were unable to hire lawyers and accountants to navigate the complicated process for accessing federal and state relief funds. Sadly, tens of thousands of these businesses are now gone forever.
Because these billions of dollars in the state’s bank account are unassigned, Maryland’s elected leaders have a unique and rare opportunity to invest in our greatest asset — our people.
As this budget surplus proves, their strength is Maryland’s strength. The more stable their wages, the more robust their savings, the greater their ability to spend as consumers, then the greater our revenues year after year. By lifting up our lowest wage earners, everyone benefits.
The bottom third of wage earners deserve the freedom from want and insecurity that the top two-thirds of wage earners have demonstrated. By achieving this, they too can fuel the financial strength of our state just as the top two-thirds of our wage earners do now.
Let’s prevent the economic free fall many still fear today and create the foundation for the economic stability we can foster tomorrow.
It’s not enough to say we put money into these programs. We must be able to say we put the money in the hands of those who truly needed it and gave them a ladder to the prosperity they are capable of attaining with a truly level playing field.
Immediately, the governor and General Assembly can pass another state stimulus like we did in February. Our office sent out 431,000 payments of $300 or $500 to our state’s lower income taxpayers within days of passing the Maryland Relief Act. The second time around however, we can afford larger stimulus payments and increase the number of people who qualify for them. Let’s say we set aside just $1 billion for this immediate cash stimulus to our families most in need.
Then we should fortify our Rainy Day Fund, whose balance is currently $631 million and scheduled to be increased to $1.4 billion in the FY 2022 budget already passed. I recommend we divert even more to strengthen that fund now that our projected revenues are significantly higher. Why? Because we know that despite all of the projections, our economy can change in an instant and we are, in fact, still battling an unpredictable pandemic.
Now is the time for the state to come together and decide what truly defines Maryland when it comes to our budget priorities. I strongly encourage that we invest a significant percentage of this surplus in one-time priorities that help stabilize our rental markets and affordable housing, jumpstart transportation projects like Baltimore City’s Red Line, and fund innovative solutions for some of our most urgent environmental challenges.
We also must invest in Maryland’s main streets — our family owned hospitality and retail businesses. These businesses need an immediate infusion of cash, akin to the paycheck protection program, in order to keep their employees on the job while also ensuring they can maintain their bottom line. We should also consider staff signing bonuses to help bring back our main streets while providing those who have been out of work with a needed infusion of funds.
Let’s get this right and fix broken systems that have delayed unemployment benefits, rental assistance, child care provider payments and more. We also must ensure that taxpayers’ dollars are not landing in the hands of fraudsters – something the state has not done well during the pandemic.
We cannot repeat the disasters that occurred at the Maryland Department of Labor with unemployment disbursements and we must increase the pace of the distribution of rental relief funds. Hundreds of daycare providers have been waiting for emergency grants from the Maryland State Department of Education for months. We must use some of these funds to fix these systems that are supposed to be providing critically needed funds quickly.
We often hear leaders talk about how COVID exacerbated problems that existed before the pandemic and will linger long after it finally passes. We must stabilize those who continue to suffer while preparing long-term solutions to inequities in our housing and labor markets that have been thrown into full view over the past year.
Marylanders deserve results, not more rhetoric, and this money is an opportunity.
(The writer is the state comptroller.)